It is inevitable that bound with the stories of our lives is also the story of food. Most of us eat three times a day. When we visit people, we eat. When we celebrate, we eat. Family recipes are treasured and passed down through generations. Even ordinary, mundane moments involving food in our lives, for whatever reason, can become imprinted in our memory for a lifetime.
My Grandparents were vastly different. I often considered Nan and Pop to be more modern while Grandma and Grandpa were more old-fashioned. Never have I associated either of these descriptors as something negative. In fact, I believe that the contrast between the two meant that I received the best of both worlds; I grew up with totally different experiences. And of course with both Grandparents come memories of food.
It’s a little harder to pull forth memories of food associated with Nan and Pop. A lot more time has gone since they both passed away and, due to the distance, we didn’t visit as regularly as we visited Grandma and Grandpa. My memories of food are often fragmented with other memories.
Nan and Pop lived in Safety Bay and Nan often walked to the deli which was located on the corner of Safety Bay Road and Malibu Road. About a 15 minute walk, she was regularly accompanied by her grandchildren if they were staying over. Visiting the deli often meant that we’d be bought a treat of some kind such a small bag of lollies for 20c (I don’t think such a thing exists anymore!). On hot days she’d buy us an icy pole. Usually picking out a Twin Pole (it no longer exists but you can see an image here), Nan would buy one and, much to my disappointment, would split it in half; half for me and half for my brother.
The same complex also boasted the local fish and chips shop and, if we were having fish and chips for dinner, this was where Nan and Pop would buy them. Potato scallops were a favourite!
Eating at a fast food restaurant was a rarity and generally a treat. I can remember once during school holidays a group of my cousins and I went ice-skating at Mirrabooka and then had Hungry Jacks for lunch afterwards. Having eaten our meals we were bought a 30c ice-cream cone each. My little cousin (who was the youngest there) wound up receiving a cone with the most gigantic swirl of ice-cream imaginable. Nan took one look at it, said, “You can’t eat all that,” and then took a great big bite off the top of the ice-cream, leaving less than half of it behind. Understandably, my cousin was not happy at having lost a considerable chunk of her ice-cream.
There are flashes of memories of me sitting at the breakfast bar in Nan and Pop’s house with my brother or cousins on either side. Eating out of a brightly coloured plastic bowl, it was Nan who told me to eat my hot soup from the sides and to blow on it first so it wouldn’t burn my mouth. Into the same bowls were placed spoons of ice-cream and I’d eat it with custard; watching curiously as the custard began to solidify against the cold. Sometimes ice-cream wasn’t even necessary and Brownes custard was generously poured straight from the carton into a bowl for eager children to messily gulp into their mouths with a spoon. Brownes no longer make custard anymore and I’ve found no other brand really compares to the runny, pale yellow mixture which once existed.
Pop didn’t cook all that much but he was well-known for his delicious pumpkin scones. I don’t remember eating them regularly but the memory of him making pumpkin scones has become so ingrained in my mind that the mere mention of pumpkin scones reminds me of him.
Certain condiments also remind me of Pop. Mint sauce was a staple on the table as well as salt. Pop simply could not eat a meal without salt and I’d watch in fascination as he sprinkled a considerable amount of it over all his food. Even when I thought he’d finished, he’d sprinkle a little more.
I was also lucky that I grew up surrounded by cousins. There were so many of us that birthday parties were regular events throughout the year. And you can’t have a birthday party without party food. Party pies, party sausage rolls, mini frankfurts (with a bowl of sauce and a container of toothpicks nearby) were all party staples. A variety of sandwiches cut in triangles generally rounded off the savoury food selection. Bowls filled with chips or Cheezels were placed on tables for eager hands to help themselves. Cheezels in particular were stored on fingers and popped into your mouth one by one.
Sweet foods may have included fairy bread, chocolate crackles (right) or honeyjoys and there was always a birthday cake. Once the party was over, we would be given a lolly bag to take home. Digging through the bag to see what was in there was always an exciting end to the day.
When I think of my Grandma and Grandpa, food is always a part of my memories. We saw them regularly and often at their home on Wasley Street. Sometimes the visits were planned and we’d go for lunch, dinner or morning tea. Sometimes my Mum took my brother and I to Hyde Park to play and then decided to pop in to visit them afterwards (they lived a couple of minutes away from the park). Even these random visits included food.
Though perhaps surprised to see us, never were they annoyed by an unexpected visit. We all piled into the kitchen (which was also the dining area) and Grandma would start preparing; putting on the kettle for tea, digging out biscuits or cakes (which she nearly always had on hand) or creating a snack: Sao biscuits with butter, cheese and perhaps tomato or gherkin.
Sometimes these visits occurred in the morning and we’d end up staying for so long that Grandma would suggest we stay for lunch. Depending on what they had in the fridge, she’d send Grandpa up to the shops on Fitzgerald Street with a shopping list and, on occasion, his grandchildren in tow. I don’t know why, but I always felt slightly important to be going to the shops with Grandpa.
The planned visits and the food consumed is something I’ll never forget and likely something I’ll never be able to replicate. And to be honest, I don’t really want to. Though I could try, it’ll never be exactly the same. Not because of me not following a recipe or getting a flavour correct but because a crucial part would be missing, my Grandparents. No matter how hard I try, the memories will always be sweeter.
If, for whatever reason, Grandma asked me what I’d like for dinner when we came over, the answer would always be, without question, a roast. Grandma probably spent most of the day preparing it and when we arrived that evening, dinner would nearly be ready but not quite. The kitchen table would be covered with a tablecloth and set with the good crockery and silver cutlery. Salt and pepper and any other condiment was also served out of silver accessories (below) which were a gift from my Dad.
Roast meat, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato (except for me – I was a bit of a fusspot when I was little), peas with mint and cauliflower cheese (my favourite!) were laden on the plates and finished off with gravy. Heaven!
Having gobbled up everything in record time, we’d wait patiently as Grandma finished eating. She was always last to finish but that was probably because she was eating and chewing properly.
Dessert was usually a much lighter affair; two-toned jelly with peaches suspended in the middle and accompanied with ice-cream or cream. Much to my Mum’s horror, I liked to eat cream by the spoonful, referring to it as ‘my medicine.’
On days where it was too hot or as Grandma got older and making a roast dinner was too much strain on her, we’d come over for dinner and eat cold meat and salad. Despite eating simply, the table was always presented in the same way.
After we’d eaten everyone would help with washing and drying the dishes and the job of putting everything away was often given to my brother and I. Having done the dishes we’d sit in the lounge room for a while and watch TV which was usually whatever Grandpa wanted to watch. If it was boring (A Current Affair – yep, boring) my brother and I would play cards with Grandma.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that surely we’d be done eating after all this but, nope, there was still supper.
It wasn’t much though, a cuppa for Mum and Dad, Milo for my brother and I and, the best of all, a Milk Arrowroot biscuit (or two!) slathered with butter.
Again there are flashes of smaller memories. Picking out sultanas from the little cakes Grandma made (there’s that fusspot again) so much so that she ended up always making some without sultanas. The satisfying crunchy crumble of a cornflake biscuit or the familiar, comforting flavour of Grandma’s chocolate cake. Sitting at the kitchen table and writing out the chocolate cake recipe in handwriting that was decidedly primary school in its style (I can picture it in my mind but that copy has sadly disappeared). There are memories of home-made sausage rolls and of going home with leftovers in an ice-cream container (even our dog, Blackey, received leftovers or bones). And then there were goodbyes when (even after all that eating) we’d ask if we could go home with a Kool Mint.
I’m by no means a food writer but I could literally go on and on and on about the food that I grew up with and how it played a part in my childhood and life in general (I’m sure anyone could). I haven’t even touched upon stories of my Mum’s cooking (she’s by far the undisputed queen of rissoles and corned beef) and when thinking about family history and my memories of food it’s of no surprise that those that are fondest and those that are easily recalled, are those that generally occurred whilst surrounded by family.
If you have any special memories relating to food or if there’s a particular food which reminds you of a loved one, please share and leave a comment below. I’d love to read about your stories.
- Chocolate Crackles – The Australian Women’s Weekly; 24 June 1953; Page 64.
- Sao Biscuits – The Australian Women’s Weekly; 21 September 1966; Page 84.
- Milk Arrowroot Biscuits – The Australian Women’s Weekly; 2 August 1967; Page 55.